A group of 17 winter sport athletes assembles around a white bobsleigh emblazoned with a Visa logo. As the photographer prepares for a group shot, someone shouts: “Wait, we’re waiting for the man, the legend!”
The 18th member of the 2008-2009 World Cup bobsleigh team is at the back of the room being interviewed. The photo would certainly not be complete without Pierre Lueders, who is one of Canada’s most recognizable Olympians. Lueders is the elder statesman of the team, an athlete who has been blasting down the sled track for Canada all of the past two decades.
“Lueders, Lueders, Lueders,” comes a mock chant as he joins the photo shoot.
Competing in the last four Olympic Winter Games, Lueders has captured two medals: gold in two-man in 1998 and silver in two-man in 2006. Yet that brushes only the surface of his career. How about 85 medals on the World Cup circuit? Eight medals at World Championships? Six-time World Cup overall champion in two-man bobsleigh? Four overall titles in the combined bobsleigh? Another overall title in the four-man?
“It’s nice to be recognized as someone who has taken the sport to a certain level, and to let the people in this room carry it into the future,” said Lueders, as the team took a pit stop in Toronto on Nov. 17 to be officially unveiled to the media on their way to Germany for their first World Cup race.
Lueders has committed himself to Canada until the 2010 Olympic Winter Games. After 19 years, what continues to drive him? “I enjoy the sport, I enjoy the racing, the action and putting a team together,” he said. “And I love trying to outdo our compatriots from other countries.”
Lueders shows a calm, relaxed demeanour, an important trait when one is the default leader of bobsleigh athletes who race under heightened expectations. Though the Games of Vancouver and Whistler linger on the horizon, Lueders is content to focus only the coming World Cup season. He says they must be careful not just to talk about gold medals or obsess about results. It is simply about preparing for the season and being as competitive as possible against the world’s top bobsleigh nations – which will inevitably include a powerful German squad.
Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton has “very high expectations” for 2010, according to its CEO Don Wilson. That is only because Canada is, past and present, home to many of the world’s best bobsleigh athletes. This year’s version will be showcased for the first time in Winterberg, Germany, November 25 to 30, for a World Cup event.
And there is no shortage of notable athletes, including Helen Upperton who finished fourth in the two-man bobsleigh at the Torino 2006 Olympic Winter Games. Kailiee Humphries is an Olympic veteran (2006) and has finished as high as third in the overall World Cup standings. Lascelles Brown won an Olympic silver medal in the two-man bobsleigh in 2006. Ken Kotyk finished just off podium in Turin, fourth in the four-man. David Bissett also competed in those Games, in both the four-man and two-man.
The full team for the 2008-2009 season:
Canada 1 sled – Women
Helen Upperton (driver), Jenny Ciochetti, Heather Moyse
Canada 2 sled – Women
Kaillie Humphries (driver), Shelley-Ann Brown
Canada 3 sled – Women
Lisa Szabon (driver), Amanda Moreley, Sabrina Notorangelo
Canada 1 sled – Men
Lyndon Rush (driver), Adam Rosenke, Rob Gray, Chris Lebihan, Lascelles Brown
Canada 2 sled – Men
Pierre Lueders (driver), Justin Kripps, David Bissett, Ken Kotyk, Dan Humphries